A Guatemalan woman has defied odds by being the country’s first openly LGBTI person voted into congress.
Sandra Morán, who is openly gay, was voted into the Guatemalan congress in September despite deep-rooted prejudice against members of the LGBTI community. A 2012 survey conducted in Guatemala by George Washington University found that 74 percent of interviewees would not vote for a candidate who was openly LGBTI, and that under 40 percent of those questioned would not accept an LGBTI family member.
Morán’s win is a major development for Guatemala’s LGBTI community. The Congresswoman – who was a participant of USAID’s ‘More Inclusion, Less Violence’ project aimed at promoting diversity within Guatemala’s election process – is determined to use her new political position to improve human rights across the country.
“It is about creating visibility. I hope to be able to enact legislation that supports equal rights and creates public policy change for the LGBTI community. It is my hope that as the movement strengthens, the communities lagging behind can progress,” the veteran human rights activist told USAID.
For the last 20 years, Moran has worked tirelessly with women and feminist movements in the country.
A representative for the Guatemalan Women’s Sector – an alliance of 33 women’s groups – Morán played a leading role in the development of the National Women’s Forum, an organisation set up to encourage women’s participation in public policy following the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords.
In 1995, she set up Guatemala’s first lesbian collective, and she also participated in the organisation of the country’s first gay pride in 1998.
While Morán has been an eminent advocate of LGBTI and women’s rights, the activist says she is also dedicated to improving rights for all Guatemalans.
“Although most identify me as a feminist, I believe in rights for all. I am a lesbian and I live as that. I hope that the global fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights advances to a point where it transcends to the smallest towns and communities worldwide,” she told USAID.
Working in conjunction with Guatemala’s Election Tribunal, USAID’s election project held a LGBTI voter registration day. Some 200 members from the LGBTI community registered, which USAID says makes the 2015 election the highest voter turnout in the country’s recent history.
Another important step towards the acceptance and inclusion of the country’s transgender community, was the participation of eight transgender women who acted as election observers.
“It is impossible to become comfortable with what we don’t see, know or live personally”, said Eduardo Nuñez, the Guatemala country director of the National Democratic Institute, to USAID.
One of the transgender volunteers, Debby Linares Sandoval, informed USAID that the experience had been significant.
“None of the transgender voters got harassed about their identity. I think that’s a big step for electoral awareness and opening to the community – for me, that is the start of something positive.”
In recent years, the Guatemalan Congress has sought to improve the political and electoral system by working with civil society and encouraging greater representation of minority and traditionally marginalised groups.